Supporters of the Operation Christmas Child shoebox collection are being urged to get their boxes and gifts together ready for packing.

The collection, organised by the Christian charity Samaritan’s Purse, is this year celebrating its 20th anniversary in Wiltshire, during which time nearly one million shoeboxes full of gifts for underprivileged children in eastern Europe and beyond have been packed and despatched.

The UK organisation is hoping to send off its 100 millionth box during this year’s collection.

In Wiltshire the 20th anniversary will be marked by an event in Melksham Assembly Hall on Saturday, October 20, from 10.30am to 1pm. The charity’s Wiltshire depot is based in the town.

There will be refreshments on sale, various charity stalls and activities for children.

The organiser of the Operation Christmas Child shoebox collection in Devizes has appealed for helpers to come along to a box-packing day on Saturday, November 3.

Ursula McKinnon, from Broadleas Road, Devizes, hopes the event at St Andrew’s Church hall will be as successful as last year, when people packed 685 boxes of presents for underprivileged children in eastern Europe.

She said: “We were very grateful that so many people turned up last year and hope that we can get them back again this year. There are a number of ways people can help and any help is very welcome.”

People can bring presents for packing along to the church hall on the day, particularly toiletries such as soap, flannels and toothpaste. They can sponsor a box for £2.50 to cover the cost of transporting the gifts to the needy children.

Mrs McKinnon and her colleagues would also appreciate help in setting up the packing station from 4.30pm on the Friday before.

Operation Christmas Child is an initiative of the Christian charity Samaritan’s Purse and operates all over the world. Each year in Wiltshire alone more than 20,000 shoeboxes filled with goodies are sent off from a depot in Melksham to orphanages and children’s homes in Belarus, Ukraine and beyond.

Schools, church groups and community organisations do their own shoebox packing and individuals can also join in and leaflets giving details of what to pack and how to pack them. Labels to put on the outside of the boxes will soon be available from the Devizes office of the Gazette & Herald.

Filled boxes can be dropped off at the office between 9.15am and 3.30pm from Monday to Thursday.